If your contact with your aging parents, due to job responsibilities or geographical distance, is sporadic, you may miss the first indicators that one or both is experiencing mild cognitive impairment. It can be shocking to visit after several months and see obvious signs of poor judgment or worrisome behavioral changes.
What should adult children do?
Don't beat yourself up for not noticing earlier, as that's non-productive. If you have siblings, it's important to notify them of what you've observed and stress that some decisions must be made regarding your parents' future.
It's vital that all siblings are on board with this intervention attempt. Just one disgruntled adult child of cognitively impaired parents is enough to upset the family apple cart and create legal and other obstacles for the rest.
Once everyone is up to speed with the situation, it's time to gently confront your parents in a very non-threatening way about the changes you have observed. Remember to ask the important questions regarding their financial situation.
Do they have long-term care plans in place?
If your parents were proactive and took out a long-term care policy, you are already a step ahead of the game. If not, it may not be too late to purchase one, although the price is likely going to be higher.
Dependent upon many factors, you or another sibling may have to step in to preserve mom's and dad's hard-earned investments and other assets. Even mild cognitive impairment can lead to disastrous money management decisions that may drain their life savings, put their home at risk or even leave them penniless at the most vulnerable time.
Financial abilities among first to go
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) claims that once dementia sets in, patients lose their abilities to manage their financial accounts and monthly expenses before they decline in other areas. In fact, an interruption of service in vital utilities may be what first alerts you to your parents' mental decline.
You might not be the only one who notices, unfortunately. Scam artists prey on senior citizens who are debilitated by dementia -- and once the money is gone, it is usually gone for good even if the scammers eventually get arrested for their crimes.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), loneliness and memory loss are two factors that affect senior citizens' financial judgment.
With up to 20 percent of senior citizens in the United States dealing with the affects of mild cognitive impairment, and another 5 million diagnosed with Alzheimer's, evaluating your parents' cognitive abilities is a must.
Are they willing to accept help?
This is a critical question to answer because their willingness to allow you to go over their finances and/or take over their bill-paying responsibilities can determine the trajectory of any future courses of action.
Parents in cognitive decline who are willing to accept help may be able to remain in their present living situations longer than those who resist all entreaties from grown children to allow them access to finances and other matters.
Dementia causes personality changes and can make seniors paranoid that their loved ones or hired caregivers are stealing from them or conspiring against them. It's these cases that are the hardest to manage.
Legal action may be necessary to protect your parents
While this should not be the first, second or possibly even third option to consider, if your parents are completely recalcitrant, refuse all help and have become dangerous to themselves or others, you will need to step in and make some difficult decisions.
You may need to obtain conservatorship or guardianship of your parents for their own safety and well-being. A northern Ohio elder law attorney can guide you through the process best suited to your parents' circumstances.